Only God could write a storyline in which a Colorado country girl rides an elephant in Nepal with a Kenyan pastor, a dear friend who serves in Nairobi’s second largest slum. We laughed and joked as we rocked along with the giant beast, waving to a field worker dressed in brilliant hues.
(Photos in story can be clicked to view larger)
In my memories, Nepal is the enchanted land where worlds and passions collide.
The same Kenyan pastor, a pied piper in his own homeland, submitted his body as a human jungle gym for five giggling Nepalese boys. They couldn’t understand his words, but the language of play and kindness reign universal. Only a few months prior, they subsisted as unwanted orphans. Laughing on his shoulders, they belonged to a newly formed family of two parents along with their two biological daughters, supported by Hope’s Promise. The rest of us, a Hope’s Promise team from the United States as well as the Nepalese director, joined in the frivolity, marveling at the boys’ acrobatics and kicking a soccer ball around in the heat-drenched afternoon.
Seeing those former orphans safely home in a family was miracle enough, but the next day brought about another story that only God could write. Our group planned to walk through villages praying but not verbalizing our faith, since, in a country where only 1% of the population is Christian, proselyting is illegal. However, together we studied a powerful little passage in the biblical book of Acts: an Ethiopian Eunuch rides along in his chariot, reading Old Testament law. Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the disciple Philip runs alongside; asks if the man understands what he is reading; and, at the man’s invitation, explains the Good News of Christ who died and rose again to set us free. The eunuch becomes a believer. Even as Philip found himself in a story he could never write himself, we prayed for one another to be found by the Holy Spirit in God’s story for that day.
We arrived at a church, a low slung innocuous building tucked in a quaint residential area. Removing our shoes, we settled on floor mats, men on the left and women on the right. One of our team members joined a translator to deliver the first of four workshops on topics varying from internet safety to hygiene. Those of us not assigned to teach slipped out the door and dispersed in sultry heat.
Pastor Karau and his partner took only a few steps before a young man greeted them in English. They engaged in conversation and learned that his brother is a Christian, but he did not yet know his own spiritual path. He asked many questions. When I returned, there was Pastor Karau praying with the man to become a Christian! I realized in that moment how God loves the peoples of the earth. His unfailing love hovers over rice fields, rages alongside mountain rivers, and searches chaotic city streets. As Pastor Karau said, “In a country with many gods, Christ can be seen bringing souls to Himself.”
In another surreal moment, a few of us walked the ancient, confining streets of Patan with our Nepali friend. I walked next to Phil, my friend since early childhood. Once we played cowboys and Indians in the forest and waged pinecone wars with our siblings. Now, we made our way through a narrow canyon carved between towering buildings. Pressed in from every side, people crowded street asphalt and on up, as high as we could see, perching on crumbling roofs. Vehicles of every shape squeaked, honked, and puttered. Balanced precariously on a narrow sidewalk shoulder, we felt the shudder of air as motorcycles roared by just inches away. A shrine to our left, incense in the air, verdant green growing on top of brick structures, baskets of red tomatoes, wires draped overhead, people ducking through corrugated metal doors: Phil and I laughed out loud in disbelief. We felt like we were walking through a movie set, carefully constructed to evoke the exotic. But this patina could only be produced by centuries of rain and sun and movements of living beings. And there we were, just little drops swept along in an ancient river as ordinary to the people we passed as the snowy forests of home were to us when we were children. My senses struggled to make sense of all the stimulation, but I unmistakably felt the heart of God longing for every other drop surging through those streets to flow home to Him.
One particular day in Nepal was a photographer’s dream – we were going on a field trip to a paradise garden with ten adorable Hope’s Promise children dressed in their Sunday best. And then my camera battery died, and my second battery mysteriously refused to work, although I clearly remembered charging it before I left the US. Battling disappointment, I asked the Lord to help me receive His plans for that day instead.
I settled on the lush green lawn with a few other team members and children who were drawing. Anushtha, sitting next to me, and I companionably pressed crayon to paper. Another team member interrupted my artistic reverie and directed my attention to Binu, just a few feet away, meticulously imitating my pattern. I caught Binu’s eye and we smiled. Side-by-side, we created. I was transported to another time and place, to memories of an adult who focused on me and convinced me that I was the most valuable person on earth. My Dad and I loved to color for hours together on the kitchen floor. He is gone now, but his deposit into my heart from childhood carries me to this day.
I noticed that Binu added her own interpretation of my pattern to a section of her page; I copied it on mine and showed her. When we finished, I inscribed my drawing before giving it to her, “To Binu. You are a very talented artist. Thank you for drawing with me!” The next day she shyly handed me a beautiful picture, inscribed “to Colleen Auntie.” Only a God who knows and loves His characters intimately could write me into a story flush with memories of my dear father and intimate connection with Binu through the gift of art. I felt the rush of His love for me.
As this menagerie of memories flashes through my mind, my heart weeps for Nepal. I’ve learned that the Hope’s Promise families and staff are all safe after the recent horrendous earthquake; but I reel in shock, knowing how many others are not. I think of a rope bridge slung across a raging river, steeply terraced brilliant green hillsides, brick homes clinging to cliff edges, the vibrant clatter of Thamel’s markets; I see faces I photographed. Now I obsessively filter through on-line reports for news of this country that so quickly stole my heart with just one visit, and I wonder if those places and people remain? I wrestle to make sense of the inconceivable.
This I know, looking back, I am filled with wonder that God wrote me into a little chapter in Nepal along with the most unlikely characters of a dear childhood friend and a beloved Kenyan pastor friend as well as other amazing people on the team and the Nepalis we met. And, I pray and trust without ceasing that He will pursue the people of Nepal in this desperate time, even more relentlessly and unmistakably than I experienced during my short time there.